American Women Since 1945 by Rochelle Gatlin

By Rochelle Gatlin

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Franklin Frazier in The Negro Family in the United States (1939) who first called the female-headed black family a 'matriarchate'. This family structure was not typical, but the percentage was higher among blacks than whites: 25 per cent in 1964 compared to 9 per cent. That it was inextricably linked to poverty and public welfare rules which prohibited a man in the house, or that it had positive features, tended to be ignored. Rather, black family life was seen as 'deficient' or 'disorganised'.

Not until 1975 did white women reach rates attained by blacks in 1948. After 1960 and still more after 1970, a sharp increase in labour force participation occurred for white women. But in 1960, 31 per cent of black women who were married, living with their husbands and pre-school children, worked, compared to 18 per cent of the white women in that situation. Although employers had to overcome their prejudices about hiring married and older women, they still discriminated against them. A study of corporations in 1958 showed that 26 per cent of the firms in New York City, 40 per cent of those in San Francisco and 60 per cent in Houston, Texas, set maximum hiring ages between 35 and 45 years of age.

In 1957 only a quarter of those workers with union contracts had agreements containing equal pay clauses. More important, unionised workers were only a minority of the labour force, and women were far less organised than men. Unionised women were concentrated in a small number of industries: the needle trades, electrical goods and communications. The predominantly female clerical and sales workers had been poorly organised even before the war, and union organising efforts did not keep pace with the post-war increases in employment.

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